Yep. You read me right. My ~$23 000 student debt has been paid off. In full. The Canada Student Loan Service Centre says so, and they must be right (except when they aren’t, and they have to make an “adjustment”, or when they lose a hard drive containing my personal information, etc). Anyways, I’m going to believe the fancy letter they sent me and celebrate (TC said he would take me to dinner at Hawksworth, makers of my favourite gin cocktail, the “Hotel Georgia”).
Now that I’ve finished paying for my BFA degree (nearly four years after convocation), I’m reflecting what it is I actually got out of my four years studying theatre. I know what I didn’t get–a job (I mean, I have one, which is great, but it is not a direct result of a BFA in Theatre Performance). Am I working in theatre now? Nope. You may think that this means my undergraduate degree was a waste of time and money, or a disappointment in some way. But I disagree. I’m not a professional actress, or a professional anything really. But I fully believe that moving to BC to complete a BFA at Simon Fraser University was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
So what did I get for my $23 000 you ask? Well, enough to be grateful for:
- My BFA degree gave me good posture. Good posture is a gift that just keeps on giving (to my confidence, my vanity, and my back). I’d always wanted to have good posture, theatre school certainly makes it happen (though it’s a bit of a fight to keep it when I work in an office).
- My BFA degree fixed my lisp. It was never incredibly pronounced, but I spent most of my life saying my “S” all wrong. Totally wrong. Enter my voice teacher Lisa Beley and Edith Skinner’s diction bible, Speak With Distinction and I am happy to report that my S, while still slightly sibilant, is sounded with my tongue hovering near my TOP teeth like it’s supposed to, not my bottom, and definitely not between.
- My BFA degree gave me self-awareness. Most people surround themselves with a lot of bullshit. It’s the layer of attitude and bad habits and insecurity we use to cover up our vulnerabilities. The theatre does not have time for your bullshit. We were all subjected to a process known as the “strip-down”, which can be as small as taking out your piercings and as big as acknowledging the traits you hate the most about yourself. I learned how to take myself seriously, and my work seriously, and I realized that I’ll never be able to “coast” again–sure, Cs get degrees but if I’m not going to do my best why bother doing it at all? And I realized that I’ll always have some bullshit to deal with. But at least I know it’s there.
- My BFA degree gave, and took away, relationships. Two and a half months into my first year of the BFA (second year of university), my relationship with my high school boyfriend ended. A lot of people lost their high school or early-university relationships in that first year. And I won’t say the theatre program is directly responsible, but I will say that when you have no time to eat or sleep, and you’re being forced to confront your own bullshit in class everyday, you really stop having time for anyone else’s. To put it another way, if it’s meant to end–theatre school will end it (which I guess just saved us both some time by hurrying the inevitable). But my BFA degree wasn’t all take; it also brought me two relationships. One was a whirlwind two month affair. One was a slow off the blocks two year relationship. But they were both important and fun. While they lasted I was a sponge, soaking up all the things I liked about the other person’s world and would find useful later (like circus school and the wonders of the internet). And when they ended, like most relationships do, the periods of growth that followed continued the trajectory of self-awareness that theatre school had already started. I could never wish away experiences that made me happy, and I could never wish away sad experiences that took me to more marvelous happy experiences down the road.
- My BFA degree gave me amazing friends, and taught me that making art does not have to be a competition. The same is not true of every theatre school, or every theatre program. I’ve heard horror stories of programs that pit students against one another on the assumption that they’ll work harder. But my program didn’t work that way. The most sacred part of our work was the ensemble (i.e., the members of our class or our cast). My late teacher Marc Diamond used to say, “If you trash the ensemble, you go out with the trash” and he meant it. That meant that we never tore each other’s work apart when offering critiques or comments. That meant that we never came to class/rehearsal late or unprepared, because to do that would disrespect the work of our ensemble-mates. And that meant we left our bullshit at the door. I became very close to my ensemble mates, both in classes and in shows, and though I haven’t kept in touch with all of them, many of my past ensemble mates are still my rocks–I’ve crashed on their couches and cried in public with them and drank way too much with them. And we aren’t in competition–I’m happy for their successes and they’re happy for mine. I’ve always hated the competitiveness of the art world (the kind of back stabbing ladder climbing you see on TV), but my degree taught me another way to work, and it’s a lot friendlier this way.
- My BFA forced me to go to class without make up every day for four years. I also had to take out all my earrings and pin my hair back. For most of my degree I looked like a thirteen year old. But I had to suck it up and just look like myself. And you know what? It was kinda great. All of my friends (and both of my two aforementioned paramours) first knew me with no make up, a ponytail, sweatpants and a sports bra. And everyone liked me anyways. So take that, vanity.
- My BFA degree taught me to work my ass off. Heck yes. I think I’ve mentioned this one before, but that’s only because it’s so incredibly important. My ability to work hard and work well with others is probably the most bankable product of my degree, and to be honest, I think it’s the only one that current and future employers of mine would care about anyways.
So was it worth $23 000? Well, I won’t say there’s nothing at all I’d change–but you can’t buy happiness or maturity. What you can buy is the opportunity to have experiences and to meet people and to learn things that make you happy and help you grow. And I did. So thank you, National Student Loan Services Centre, pleasure doing business with you. I daresay I’ll be seeing you again if I ever decide to pursue a graduate degree.